When Lee Stafford agreed to speak to us, an argument nearly broke out on the beauty-obsessed, Hotcourses editorial desk as we decided who would do the interview. Kind of a big deal, Lee does not need much introduction – an award winning hairdresser to the stars who has produced his own successful product line and set up multiple training academies. Going from cutting hair in his mum’s dining room, to winning ‘Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year’ in 1998, followed by ‘Most Influential Hairdresser of the Year’ four years later, Lee is the perfect success story.
I caught up with Lee on a hectic fashion shoot, complete with models, a team of hair experts and his pet dog (‘It’s not as glamorous as it sounds I promise’) to talk about his route into hairdressing and his advice to those at the beginning of their career. Proving that hard work and passion do indeed pay off, Lee was down to earth, incredibly honest and more than happy to share his top tips when it comes to making it in the hair world.
So Lee, how did it all start? Can you tell us a bit about your educational background before you got into hairdressing?
I must admit I didn’t really have one. I enjoyed school but I didn’t really take it seriously and left before sitting my exams to start hairdressing. I really believe that what I lacked in my education before I was 16, I certainly made up for when I left school and went into hair. My hair education was in all different kind of manners from hair to management to business, really relevant stuff that has helped me throughout my career.
And how did your career progress from there?
Well I worked in a salon for a couple of months but it wasn’t really working for me, it was taking hours to get there because it was in the west end and I was working long hours for practically no money. The real problem was they weren’t really training me and I thought this trade off is way out of sync – I’m putting in all these hours for little pay, doing dogs body jobs and getting no training in return. So I left and set up shop in my mum’s dining room and that’s where it all began! Ever since I have taken education very seriously, both getting educated myself and teaching others. I’ve always found that when I am in a situation where I am training young people I do things very differently.
Of course! What would you say is the most difficult thing about working as a hair stylist?
The most difficult thing for me, personally, was learning how to do the hair well, everything else was elementary in comparison. Learning the techniques to be able to style hair is a long process. I reckon fifteen years into my career I still wasn’t happy with what I was doing, I still fought with everything. Management is also a struggle, but I’ve always found dealing people a pleasure in comparison!
What would you say is the best thing?
The best thing is getting it right, when it clicks and you start doing nice work, you get the right look for the right person, you deliver it wonderfully and they are really happy with it. The best part of my job is when clients say things like ‘everyone I bump into has been commenting on how great my hair looks’ and you can see they’re glowing and it makes you glow. It’s just a wonderful feeling, to do someone’s hair and get it bang on.
Hair is such a precious thing for so many people, how do you ensure your client will love what you do to theirs?
Well it’s taken me a long time to realise that you can give someone the best haircut in the world, but it might not be right for them – it might be too fashionable or too understated. It’s all about consultation, all about talking to somebody and finding out exactly what they want and moving their hair around their face to see what suits them. It’s so important to find out what the client is into, what their style is and what their lifestyle is like. Also finding something to suit their face - if you get these things right you won’t go wrong.
If you had to pick one, what has been your most memorable moment in your career?
Without a doubt it was my collection for Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year, which I went on to win. I took my mum and nan with me to collect the award at the Grosvenor House Hotel and had a hundred friends and family from Essex supporting me. That night and that era of doing hair changed my life.
What is your favourite hairstyle to create?
The one I always love is Veronica Lake, that classic kind of Jessica Rabbit wave - I just think it looks awesome on a girl. That’s always been my favourite look.
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in following in your footsteps?
I would say to them you’ve got to find yourself a great mentor you can get close too. It’s no good going to work for Toni and Guy and never getting to see Sacha (Mascolo-Tarbuck, Global Creative Director) because the company is so big. Look for someone who is really talented, that has got all the contacts and all the skills, someone you can work closely with and then just learn as much as you can. It takes a lot of dedication, passion and hard work. You need to put yourself in the right place with the right people and then just want it more than everyone else and work harder than anyone else.
Is this why you have opened your academies? Have you taken on a mentoring role yourself?
I have had a lot of mentors in my life and have taken on mentoring roles to quite a few different students in my career. I like doing it, my mentoring gave so much to me that if there is any way I can do this for someone else then I’ll do it. I didn’t learn by doing an apprenticeship or going to college, when I decided I wanted to learn hair I started by going on lots of courses. I thought right is the best in this industry and I went on all of their courses, it was a rather back to front way of doing things.
What was the inspiration behind your product line, where did this come from?
If I am brutally honest I never even envisioned having a product line - that was something for the likes of big famous hairdressers and never even came into my head! When I won the Men’s British Hairdresser of the Year there was someone in the audience who thought ‘I could do a brand with that guy’. He approached me, which I just couldn’t believe and we started developing the brand. Once I started developing it, like anything I do, I wanted to create something that was original, fun and that stands out. I wanted to bring something new to the market, so once I started getting my teeth into it I thought it was a great opportunity to leave a bit of a legacy and create something I could be really proud of. So it was a back to front way of developing a product line as well! I never sat down and thought ‘oh the market is missing this’, when I first launched my range all I did was copy my favourite products, but quickly realised this got you nowhere. It’s all about innovation and new product development and when this started I couldn’t stop, we invented heat protection globally and then we reinvented dry shampoo.
Amazing, we are big fans on the Hotcourses editorial desk! Can you tell us what is in the pipeline for the next year?
Well the brand is expanding like you can’t believe and it’s really developed in lots of different markets so that’s very exciting. I’m developing my academies, I opened my second a few months ago so am going to be working on opening another this year and training more young people. I’m also about to become a Dad in four weeks time so I’m buzzing about that, it’s going to be a real life changer!
Wishing you lots of luck with your new arrival! Finally, I’ve just got to ask the question that’s been on my mind the entire interview –what can I do to make my hair grow?
Get your Lee Stafford hair growth. You’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to keep using it. It’s all about the treatment and getting that scalp in the best condition you can I promise.
If Lee’s story has inspired you, why not follow in his footsteps and kick start your career with a hairdressing course. From washing and cutting, to styling and colouring we have plenty of options on offer for all abilities. With Lee’s advice ringing in your ears, get learning! Who knows where it might lead...